Kyle Kuzma

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen celebrates 21st birthday with a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie First Team

Lauri Markkanen’s celebration for his 21st birthday coincided with another major honor, being selected to the All-Rookie First team.

Markkanen received 76 of 100 possible first-team votes to join Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Boston’s Jayson Tatum and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma on the first team. Mitchell and Simmons were unanimous selections and Tatum was one vote short of joining Mitchell and Simmons.

Markkanen, acquired on draft night in the package of players for Jimmy Butler, showed he was far more advanced than many expected. His 15.2 points per game ranked third among rookies and his 7.5 rebounds were first.

Markkanen was a constant in a topsy-turvy season for the Bulls, scoring 30-plus twice and hitting the 25-point plateau another three times. As a perfect fit in Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system, Markkanen had eight games where he hit four triples or more, including a game in New York where he drilled eight 3-pointers against the Knicks.

Only 15 rookies have hit more than 140 triples in NBA history, with Markkanen accomplishing the feat in 68 games—he was joined by Mitchell and Kuzma from this year’s star-studded class.

As the season progressed and Markkanen took hold of the power forward position, the Bulls began maneuvering personnel around him, trading disgruntled forward Nikola Mirotic and making a concerted effort to put Bobby Portis at center to pair Portis with Markkanen as a spread-shooting duo.

As the most impressive rookie the Bulls have employed since Derrick Rose, he’s also the first rookie since Taj Gibson in 2010 to make All-Rookie First Team.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Where does Lauri Markkanen sit in early race for Rookie of the Year?

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USA TODAY

Where does Lauri Markkanen sit in early race for Rookie of the Year?

The NBA season is just three weeks old, but some rookies have emerged as early candidates for Rookie of the Year, including Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen.

Mark Schanowski ranked his top five rookies with the regular season just over 10 percent of the way finished. Watch the video in the embedded tweet below to see Schanowski explain his rankings and read on for more information on his top five.

5. Jayson Tatum, Boston

Key stats: 13.6 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 51.7 percent 3-pointers

The No. 3 pick in the draft is in the top five among rookies in a number of categories and is getting plenty of playing time for a championship contender.

Schanowski: "After the Gordon Hayward injury, Tatum will be counted on to play major minutes on one of the Eastern Conference's best teams."

4. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas

Key stats: 13.3 points per game, 4.6 assists per game

Smith has proven to be a bring spot at point guard for a struggling Dallas team despite shooting below 40 percent and having 3.7 turnovers per game so far.

Schanowski: Smith is "showing future All-Star potential with his explosive drives and long-range shooting."

3. Kyle Kuzma, LA Lakers

Key stats: 15.4 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 56.3 percent field goal shooting

Kuzma was taken all the way down at No. 27 in the draft, but he is stealing some of the thunder from fellow Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball.

Schanowski: "Right now Kuzma looks like one of the steals of the draft."

2. Lauri Markkanen, Bulls

Key stats: 16.3 points per game, 9 rebounds per game, 37.9 percent 3-pointers

Markkanen is second among rookies in scoring and rebounds while proving to be the type of modern NBA big man with plenty of shooting range.

Schanowski: "Markkanen is showing a lot of versatily on offense and he's a better rebounder than advertised."

1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia

Key stats: 18 points per game, 9.8 rebounds per game, 8.2 assists per game

Simmons was the No. 1 pick last year, but was out with an injury the whole season. He is making his mark as a rookie this year with two triple-doubles already and leads rookies in scoring, rebounds and assists. If he comes close to maintaining this production, he will be a lock for Rookie of the Year.

Schanowski: "Ben Simmons is definitely proving to be worth the one-year wait in Philadelphia... He's looking like a more talented version of Lamar Odom."